I still remember the toughest question posed to me during my first job interview at the National CU Foundation: "How is your experience at a for-profit international management firm relevant to running a non-profit credit union foundation?"
I sensed the person asking the question was skeptical that someone with no credit union experience could bring value to this unique movement. Fortunately I'd anticipated this question and in framing an answer, was struck by surprising similarities between my former employer and credit unions.
Booz Allen Hamilton was a privately held consulting firm. That meant we didn't have to react to sometimes unrealistic, short-term Wall Street expectations. The firm chose to look longer-term. We offered state-of-the-art training, flex-time, day care - an array of employee-friendly benefits. As I began to learn about the movement, CUs likewise struck me as employee-friendly and, of course, member-friendly institutions.
But the similarities were most striking around core values, what I call the "moral compass." One of the items in my interview packet was credit unions' "Cooperative Principles." I had a vague understanding of cooperatives, but really hadn't connected them to credit unions. What I did connect was threads of social responsibility in the Cooperative Principles and in Booz Allen's core values statement. Those threads included: greater purpose than simply making a profit; transparency, collaboration and cooperation to build the enterprise; commitments to ethical behavior, personal responsibility and accountability, and concern for sustainable development and support of communities where business is conducted.
As we begin the New Year recovering from a recession caused in large part by for-profit businesses that chose to act in a socially irresponsible irresponsible manner, I see an epic opportunity right now for credit unions to leverage their core values in particular to reach Millenials, s - those young adults whose consumer choices are influenced more than any demographic in history by whether or not they perceive institutions as socially responsible.
My 27-year-old son asked me recently, "Why aren't credit unions doing more to reach my age group? I think what credit unions have to offer is what we would be interested in."
I agree! I hope credit unions will seize this opportunity to leverage their core values and socially responsible business model to engage the next generation of members.
Steve Delfin is executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation in Washington. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 356-9655, ext. 6769.